Laureation Address: The Rt Hon Helen Clark ONZ SSI PC

Graduation Office
Tuesday 11 June 2024

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Laws
Laureation by Professor Gareth Miles Assistant Vice-Principal (Dean of Science)

Tuesday 11 June 2024

Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present for the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, The Right Honorable Helen Clark.

It is an absolute pleasure to be here today to highlight and celebrate Helen’s extensive and impressive achievements. And it is particularly special for me given that, as a New Zealander, Helen was my Prime Minister for an impressive three successive terms of office from 1999 to 2008.

Helen’s longevity as Prime Minister of Aotearoa, New Zealand, speaks to her remarkable ability to reach diverse groups of people and, importantly, her capacity to bring them together. In New Zealand we would say that Helen is someone with considerable mana. This is a term from the tangata whenua, or first people of New Zealand, the Māori. It is used to refer to someone’s presence and the great respect people hold for them.

Helen became a member of the New Zealand parliament in 1981, when women remained grossly under-represented. She later became only the second female Prime Minister of New Zealand in 1999. The role model Helen provided, and continues to provide, alongside her championing of diversity in representation and leadership, has had a tangible influence on gender representation in New Zealand and beyond. For example, New Zealand’s parliament celebrated a majority of women members for the first time in 2022.

As a member of parliament and Prime Minister, Helen led positive change in a range of areas, particularly relating to housing, health, and conservation. She also had an astutely global outlook, significantly advancing New Zealand’s international relationships, for example, via landmark free-trade agreements. Helen also focussed on emerging global challenges, advocating strongly for comprehensive programmes on sustainability.

Following her distinguished time in office in New Zealand, Helen furthered her global influence, becoming the first woman to lead the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 2009 and completing two terms in post, finishing in 2017. During this period, Helen was also Chair of the United Nations Development Group, a committee consisting of the heads of all UN funds, programmes and departments working on development issues. Whilst in post, Helen oversaw changes in the UNDP that led to it being ranked as the most transparent global development organisation.

Following her time at the UN, Helen has continued to provide global leadership in areas such as sustainable development, climate action, gender equality and world health. Helen continues to be highly sought after by a range of international organisations who have appointed her as their Chair. For example, in July 2020, she was appointed by the Director-General of the World Health Organisation as a Co-Chair of the Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response.

The Rt Hon Helen Clark ONZ SSI PC

Helen’s outstanding achievements and remarkable qualities have been recognised by many honours and awards, including being appointed a Member of the Order of New Zealand, being ranked the 20th most powerful woman in the world in 2006 by Forbes, and being awarded numerous honorary doctorates – I believe this is her eighth today.

Tēnā rawa atu koe, Helen. Thank you for the tremendously impactful work that you do at home and across the globe.

Vice-Chancellor, in recognition of her major contribution to global politics, sustainable development and gender equality, I invite you to confer the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, on Helen Clark.

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